Worn Skulls

Skullsworn by Brian Staveley.  Tor, 2017.  9780765389879.
skullswornFirst, if you’re a fan of Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades and its sequels, stop reading now. Yes, this book is about the backstory of the most compelling character from those books, Pyrre Lakatur, priestess of Ananshael, the God of Death. Yes, it’s as good as you’re hoping. Skip the minor spoilers ahead, ignore the dust jacket copy, and read it NOW. If you’re anything like me you won’t be able to put it down. 
If you’re a fantasy reader who hasn’t given Staveley a chance yet, stop waiting. His world is filled with gods new and old who occasionally walk among men, as well as other creatures and warriors that are equally as deadly. His books are right up at the top of my list with the best by Brandon Sanderson, Richard K. Morgan, Anthony Ryan, and Joe Abercrombie (which they compete with in terms of the amount and beauty of violence they contain) 
Pyrre Lakatur is facing her final trial. If she passes, she will become a priestess of the God of Death. If she fails she will be killed by her Witnesses. She must kill seven people in fourteen days who fit the criteria detailed in a song. For a devotee of Ananshael as skilled with knives as she is, this would present little trouble — she has no fear of death, and no hesitation sending people to meet her god. Except for the last person on the list: she’s supposed to give her god one who made her mind and body sing with love. And Pyrre has never been in love. 
To find the man she’s felt the most for, she returns to Dombâng, a sweltering town on a river delta full of deadly creatures, where he is in charge of the constables. To draw him to her she sets the city on edge, reminding its citizens of their ancient gods and fanning the flames of their resentment at the Empire that now rules them. To experience love, she may have to reveal who she truly is, and why she has come home. 

Turn On Your Witchlight

Witchlight by Jessi Zabarsky. Czap, 2016.

witchlightContains material originally published in Witchlight #1 – #4 plus new material.

Sanja is visiting the market with her father and brothers when she accidentally confronts a witch, Lelek, who is dealing with an unhappy customer. Sanja awakens to find herself tied up in Lelek’s camp, though she doesn’t seem too concerned. Lelek wants Sanja to teach her to fight with a sword. Sanja agrees provided Lelek stops cheating people in different towns. They’re soon on the road together with Lelek challenging other witches to fights wherever they go for a share of the spectator’s fees.

The beginning of the story (the kidnapping) is a bit odd and abrupt, but the budding friendship (and perhaps more) between the two young women makes it very enjoyable, as does Zabarsky’s cheerful black and white (and somewhere in between) art.

I’ve picked up a few Czap books at small comics shows over the last few years (Seattle’s Short Run, and maybe SPX), and I was happy to be able to pledge to their Kickstarter.

What do you think about the birds in the sky?

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. TOR Books, 2016. 9780765379948.

allthebirdsGene: I think my pitch for this book to you was, “This book is breaking my heart.” I couldn’t read very much of it at a time. I think I started it in July or August, but I didn’t finish it until December after we decided to do it as a book club. I think I was just so upset by the early chapters… but they were also so beautiful, so beautifully done.
Sarah: I remember you telling me that it was great and that it kept changing genres, it kept breaking your expectations. And I thought, “I would read it for that.”
G: Breaking expectations and also my heart. In a way that kind of put it in that Neil Gaiman area.
Continue reading “What do you think about the birds in the sky?”

Not Far from My Favorite Book

The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin. Saga Press, 2001. 9780689845345.

the-farthest-shoreI’m doing something I hardly ever do — I’m writing this review without notes. I just had a conversation with my friend Adam, and at the heart of it was the idea of being present. When I feel overwhelmed I realize I return to books that I love, and this is one of them. When I picked it up last week, in the middle of working my way through five or six other books that I’m enjoying, it was because as I worked my way though this familiar and beautifully told story I was able to take time to reflect and think and to even watch myself reading it, if that makes any sense.

It’s a concise and poetic fantasy novel of the type that are rarely written, the third in the Earthsea series. Magic is disappearing from the world, and the Archmage Sparrowhawk and a young prince set out to investigate. Their journey takes them across the islands of Earthsea. They find people who can’t remember who they are, who seem to have given up their selves for the lie of living forever. The world is out of balance. A man, misusing his gifts and his power, is at the heart of it all and has to be stopped.

This reading it all seemed to be about the price of greed and being motivated by fear, but maybe that’s the election talking. That true immortality, or at least as much of it as we can have, can only be found in songs. That there’s value in wandering over hills and seas and even in stillness. That to become who you are you have to risk death. (And that if you want young people to become who they are, you have to let them take this risk, you can’t take it for them or protect them from it.)

What do you reread?

B-movie Brood

American Blood by Benjamin Marra. Fantagraphics, 2016. 240pp. 9781606999523.

american-bloodThis is tasteless, B-movie madness in the best sense of the word, a collection of comic book length work by the creator of Terror Assaulter: O.M.W.O.T. reproduced, for some reason, in purple ink. You’ll find something to love here if you find joy any of the following: the most tasteless blaxploitation films, The Ripping Friends, the more tasteless episodes of Ren & Stimpy, Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit, Blade, Korgoth of Barbaria,  Steel Dawn, The Blood of Heroes, the wooden dialogue in Krull , the carnage in Django Unchained, and big-haired porn of the 70s. (If you only like some of those things, you’re going to find something objectionable.)

Sarah: This is like a tasting menu of the tasteless and/or the start of a really fun theme party!

Here’s the back cover, which serves as a more specific pitch for each of the stories in the book. (Click on it for a larger image.)

american-blood-back-cover_small

Mirror, Mirror

Mirror: The Mountain by Emma Ríos and Hwei Lim. Image, 2016. 9781632158345.

Contains Mirror #1 – #5.

mirror-the-mountainBefore I get to the plot, I want to talk about Lim’s art. It’s soft, expressive, apparently done in watercolor. It contains an amazing amount of detail when needed and a lack of it when it’s unnecessary. And she colors outside of the lines! It has the perfect calmness for capturing this fairytale of mage scientists, love, and anthropomorphic animals on an alien world.

The plot: An asteroid’s magic shapes the animals there, making them more than they were — intelligent, and to different extents more human. There is a war underway between the animals and the human colonists, though some work for the humans — most prominently a rat named Zun and a ghost that looks like Sena (a dog), who is one of the animal leaders. Sena still loves Ivan, her friend (and clearly more) who became a talented mage scientist and is helping Kaz, who is trying to understand how the animals changed so that he can use the process to make soldiers.

Confusing? A bit. It jumps around in time. It’s less guns and bombs and more about a quiet, indirect, emotional conflict. At the heart of it is Kazbek, his “son” the minotaur Aldebaran, and Ivan, who continues to love Sena (who was, yes, at one point his dog) despite the fact that she once really hurt him.

I know this sounds disjointed, and it is, but the story really is beautiful, and it’s going to have a lot of appeal for readers who don’t normally go for science fiction. Many will pick it up because of the art and stay for the magic and its “lovers on the opposite sides of a war” aspect.

A glimpse of the minotaur got me reading it. I stuck around for the art. And then I reread it because it was so beautifully told, and I knew that rereading it would clarify the plot and deepen my understanding of the book (though even now it feels difficult to explain in a linear way). Good stuff.

Stone Cold Fun

Hilda and the Stone Forest by Luke Pearson. Flying Eye Books, 2016. 9781909263741.

hilda-and-the-stone-forestI’ve been a fan of Pearson’s graphic novels since picking up a copy of the creepy Everything We Miss and the original Hildafolk at TCAF years ago. And since reading Soppy, a Love Story, his girlfriend Philipa Rice’s book about their romance, I supposed I’m a fan of Pearson, too.

Blue-haired Hilda lives in Trolberg and has adventures with her doglike pet, Twig, despite the watchful, worried eye of her mother. (Initially she saves some little people when their house is carried off by a bit of ground that suddenly sprouted four legs and went running across town and into the mountains. Hilda’s excuse to her mother: she was at her friend David’s house, and after watching a video they played in the garden.) Hilda has adventures everywhere — in dank caves, on haunted ships, on stormy seas, in haunted libraries, in the sky — but after her mother catches her sneaking out she’s grounded. When her magical friend/housemate Tontu (think Captain Caveman with a bigger nose and no club) tries to take Hilda into a crack in her bedroom wall, her mother catches her, and the tug of war between her mother and Tontu throws Hilda and her mother into a weird, dark forest full of trolls. Can they survive and find their way home? Are there nice trolls who want to help?

The story always flows. It’s the next book I’d give a kid after Mark Crilley’s Akiko comics, and it’s right up there with Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet series for excellence. The colors are marvelous and eye-catching. But as an adult, the thing I most admire is Pearson’s layouts. The size of his panels and the number varies from page to page, but always in service of the story. Most of the time the layout is invisible, but then I realize the craft that went into how he’s been directing my eye and making me hold moments and I’m in awe.